ZHONG XIAOYANG (1962— ) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

ZHONG XIAOYANG (1962— ). Fiction writer and essayist. Born in Guangzhou, Zhong Xiaoyang grew up in Hong Kong and graduated from the Film Department of the University of Michigan. She immigrated to Australia in 1991 but moved back to Hong Kong four years later. Zhong achieved her fame at a young age, having published several books—novels, short stories, essays, and poems—by the age of 25. Like Taiwan’s Zhu Tianwen and Zhu Tianxin, whom she befriended when she went to Taipei in 1981 to accept the Unitas Literature Award for her novel Ting che zan jie wen (Stop the Car to Ask for Directions), Zhong is influenced by Zhang Ailing, whose exquisitely styled fiction captures the subtleties of modern urban life. Zhong wrote Ting che zan jie wen at the tender age of 18, but her prose is stunningly sophisticated, a result of her deep immersion in classical Chinese poetry and fiction, particularly the 18th-century novel Hong lou meng (A Dream of Red Mansions), a book that also greatly influenced Zhang Ailing. Ting che zan jie wen presents a portrait of a woman whose dream of love is thrice dashed by reality. Another novel, Yi hen chuanqi (Love in Eternal Regret), relates the collapse of a wealthy Hong Kong family caught in the fatal entanglement of romantic rivalry and intrigue. Published in 1996, the novel can be read as an allegory of the city’s colonial history and an expression of anxiety about the imminent British handover of Hong Kong to China.

Much of Zhong’s work deals with the emotional intensities of romantic relationships that end tragically, invoking the world inhabited by Zhang Ailing’s characters. In a language that is at once evocative, meditative, and elegant, Zhong presents a modern urban life pointedly from a woman’s perspective. While describing the agonizing consequences of a lost love, Zhong celebrates the imperfection of human destiny. Characterized as gothic, Zhong’s fiction is overwhelmingly concerned with the topos of decay and death, as shown by book titles such as Ran shao zhi hou (In the Wake of the Fire), a collection of short stories, and Gao mu si hui ji (Dead Wood and Burnt Ashes), a poetry collection.